Need of the hour: A repeal and re-enactment of the Child Labour Law

Posted on May 15, 2015

A detailed response to the Cabinet approval of the amendment to the Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2012

A press release from the Ministry of Labour and Employment yesterday declared that cabinet approval had been granted to make changes to the previously existing Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2012. This initial release is sketchy and for any considered and meaningful response, the Ministry needs to urgently bring out the full text of the changed Amendment Bill including the schedules and rules that may have been framed in this regard. This is especially important as the lack of clarity on the actual text of the Bill has led to confused speculations on the possible outcomes.

It appears from the text of the release that the Government seems to have finally recognized that the child labour conversation has two sides to it – the demand and the supply side – by stating that it must take a ‘prudent’ approach keeping in mind the prevailing ‘socio-economic conditions’. Yet even as the Government recognises that the roots of hazardous child work are imbedded in poverty in its text, it does little else in response. The 2012 Amendment speaks nothing of preventive measures, provisioning other choices for the child – both in the short and the long term or re-imagining education in a manner made accessible and appropriate to them. Without addressing reasons for why children work in difficult circumstances, the ban just implies a continuation of the current simplistic and often deeply traumatising experience of ‘raid and rescue’ combined with institutionalization for children who are working. The current Act and Amendment also continues to penalize parents for ‘allowing’ children to work without responding to their circumstances in any real manner. This ‘solution’ to the issue of harmful work has now through multiple studies been shown to have no efficacy and instead leads to greater violations of the basic rights and dignity of children.

Additionally, the new release seems to indicate making some arbitrarily picked exceptions to spaces where children might continue working in the form of family or family based enterprises alongside the audio-visual industry. It explains this by stating that ‘children also learn the basics of occupations’. While we appreciate the recognition that all work is not harmful and that work can also be educative, a longstanding belief of CWC, the exceptions made are deeply problematic. It has been well recognized in the child labour discourse that work at home is not necessarily devoid of exploitation or subjugation. In fact in the globalizing world a lot of outsourced potentially hazardous works are undertaken by family enterprises. Also, family based occupations are often the site of reproducing occupational caste-based work. If the Government does recognize the efficacy of good work, then a regulated formal sector that is already monitored by the Labour Department, would be a much more feasible option. The addition of the entertainment industry which has shown tremendous potential for exploitation through the commodification and commercialization of children seems especially worrisome.  Lack of clarity on how the sector is to be regulated for age-appropriate material or work environment, leaves one unsure of why this exception has been made at all.

The provision of the Amendment Bill of recognizing the category of 14 to 18 year olds as adolescents and regulating their work space has long been required but this in itself is not enough. As the current Bill aligns with the Right to Education Act for under 14s, the educational requirements of adolescents also need to be taken into account. Even as they are allowed to work in non-hazardous situations there is need for systems which ensure that this work leads to an augmentation of skills and is supported by other educational structures such as evening schools and colleges. The Apprenticeship Act of 1960, in particular, if revamped and made child rights friendly, could be considered as a suitably supportive framework.

There is no doubt that children should not be undertaking work which is harmful to their physical and mental well-being. Yet the States response to how this will be made a social reality needs to incorporate the nuances involved. Just by removing children from work situations and compelling them into joining schools that are not geared to their learning and developmental needs, without addressing the larger issues of survival at home – does not mend the situation, as the last thirty years have shown us. This would amount to suppressing the symptoms while not treating the disease!

We need to abandon these piece-meal changes to the child labour law and boldly bring forth a law which is based on the child rights framework and considers not only the demand side of the conversation but more importantly approaches the question from the children’s perspective and works towards creating mechanisms which respond to their experience and needs in the real world. Otherwise, we are pushing children into a situation where we would like them to lead a life of idealized innocence but do not give them real world choices that actually result in the change of their circumstances. Without the enabling options to change their reality, the ban will only continue to gag and invisibilise our children further and push them into far more dangerous work.

To read this press release in kannada, click here.

Your Comments

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  • Nishita Khajane on June 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    It was really helpful to read this press release. The first reaction that I had towards the amendment was that it was great that government had allowed children to work at all in the first place. It remains a question as to why the government suddenly passed an amendment like this and people like Kailash Satyarthi have accepted the amendment, when there are major debates in the country that suggest complete ban on child labour.

    The second thing is that just because the amendment acknowledges children’s work in their family enterprises, it was a learning for me to deeply look into the implications of the amendment and not just to accept it because we believe that not all work is bad and that children work due to the socio-economic conditions that push them into work. The nuances that have been explained for each of the provisions of the amendment makes it very clear that the law needs a complete overhaul and not just introducing a superficial amendment that looks only at bits and pieces of the issue of child labour. This press release was really helpful in that regard.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Nishita Khajane.